About Dr. Marshack’s Blog

Dr. Marshack’s blog postings are short and timely. She shares tips that make your complex relationships work better. She also posts questions because she wants to hear from you and share ideas. Bringing people together to help each other is one of her missions.


Note: Some of the older blogs posts have been imported from a previous website and may have broken links. Try the “search” function in the sidebar to find linked pages that appear to be missing.

The Need for Real Communication

It’s a fact – lack of effective communication is a leading cause of divorce or permanent separation. Communication is an important aspect in all parts of our lives, from our relationship with our children and family to working with coworkers. Today, I’m focusing on the need for an active communication between spouses.

Newlyweds seldom think of separation on the day of their wedding. We want and hope for a strong emotional connection with our partner. Yet, these connected intimate relationships don’t just happen. They require hard work at commitment and maintenance, from both partners.

Autism is defined by a lack of social reciprocity. What does that mean? Our “Aspies” lack the empathy to understand your need for a hug or a kind word at the end of a hard day. You will need to be the bridge between your world and your partner’s world, where everything is straightforward. It’s tough to explain empathy and Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). I also wrote a couple of books to explain this more in-depth (“Out of Mind – Out of Sight” and “When Empathy Fails” – you can download a free chapter).

I briefly explain and add clarification in this blog post, “Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style”. Empathy is much more than sensitivity and “Aspies” often miss the subtle nuances of communication. This can make communication with them harder, like talking to a wall when you need a comforting hug.

People on the Spectrum can learn rules of engagement, but they can’t be taught empathy. That’s why it’s on neurotypicals to be the bridge in our relationships. . . between the empathic or interactional world of NTs and the transactional world of “Aspies.” Once we NTs understand that our “Aspies” are not using empathy to understand the world and the people around them, we neurotypicals are in much better shape to slice through the communication hangups.

What is one side-effect in not having effective communication between partners?

I have heard many neurotypicals complain of experiencing psychological invisibility. What they mean by invisibility is that they feel ignored, unappreciated and unloved, because their context blind “Aspie” family member(s) is so poor at empathic reciprocity.

We come to know ourselves (I wrote about this and Dialectical Psychology, in my book “Out of mind – Out of Sight”) in relation to others. This doesn’t just apply to children. Throughout our lifespan, we continue to weave and re-weave the context of our lives, and our self-esteem, by the interactions we have with our friends, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones.

This is why it is so important for an NT to get feedback from his or her spouse. A smile, a hug, a kind word, a note of encouragement – these are messages that reinforce our self-esteem and contribute to healthy reciprocity in the relationship.

Without these daily reminders from loved ones, NTs can develop some odd defense mechanisms, like becoming psychologically invisible to others and themselves.

If we learn to know yourself and others in relation to those we have grown up with such as our families and friends and teachers, then we don’t really have the tools to know our “Aspies” do we? “Aspies” need a different matrix for understanding themselves and their loved ones. 

If you want to know more about his matrix and how to explain it to others, I encourage you to join our community, “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”. It’s a space for partners, family and friends of “Aspies” from around the world. This is a community that understands and can empathize with your daily struggles. Additionally, you will also have access to weekly video conferences to help you navigate through your highs and lows and reclaim your life. 

I hope to see you there!

The Gaslighting Trap

I often talk about gaslighting in my video conferences and teleconferences (check my upcoming conferences and register for the ones that interest you), but not enough in my blogs, so because I have a video conference series upcoming about this exact topic, I decided to write about it.

What is gaslighting? 

Gaslighting is the phenomenon where your mind is attacked by your partner. They try to convince you that you didn’t say what you said; or that your observations are way out of line; or that everyone else thinks you’re nuts; Like brainwashing, gaslighting turns the victim into a helpless dish of mush if you don’t escape.

Some of you already know the term and others will have an “AHA!” moment when recognizing the traits in your own relationship with your spouse.

 

Who is using gaslighting?

It’s a technique commonly used by narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. What do all these people have in common? The lack of empathy.

Autism is defined by a lack of social reciprocity. Our “Aspies” are also lacking empathy – the complex term to describe more than just caring about something. Gaslighting is a natural byproduct of an empathy disorder unless the “Aspie” develops a strong moral code.

 

Who are the victims?

Unfortunately, everyone can be a victim. Your age, gender or social status are irrelevant when you are targeted by someone with no empathy skills. It’s not something you did and you are not to blame.

 

Why is gaslighting happening?

In romantic relationships, gaslighting is easier to notice (compared with work environments) and is more visible. The motive is also clear – often it’s about being in control.

People on the Spectrum love to control and order, but our daily lives are full of variables. Because of this, they are trying to control as much as they possibly can, including their partner, if they are left to do so. “No, you are wrong, this is the way it happened”, “you are crazy” or “are you stupid?” are common lines that victims hear.

It’s harder to take responsibility for a misunderstanding (or other interpersonal breakdowns), when you don’t have the empathy to compare yourself to another. As a result, “Aspies” can become quite manipulative, narcissistic and engage in the Blame Game.

I will be talking extensively about gaslighting and how you can take back your life in a series of video conferences scheduled on:

Tuesday, October 22nd at 11:00 AM PDT

Thursday, October 24th at 7:30 PM PDT

Tuesday, October 29th at 2:00 PM PDT

 

Only a small group of members of “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum” will attend, so your privacy will be protected and you will be in good company.

 

Stages of gaslighting

Psychology Today has a very useful article, which will help you recognize the stages of gaslighting:

  1. Lie and Exaggerate – gaslighting starts with a negative narrative, something is wrong about you
  2. Repetition – the previous point is repeated, like a psychological warfare
  3. Escalate When Challenged – if you call them out, the attack will double or triple
  4. Wear Out the Victim – the victims soon start to question their own reality
  5. Form Co-dependent Relationships – the gaslighter gains control
  6. Give False Hope – using manipulation, the gaslighter will give a bit of hope to gain positive momentum in the mind of the victim
  7. Dominate and Control – the goal of controlling, dominating, and taking advantage of another individual is reached

 

Consequences of gaslighting

As a result of gaslighting, victims often feel ashamed and become co-dependent on their “Aspie” spouse. I’ve written about the Blame Game and how can you tell if you’re co-dependent on your “Aspie” on my blog.

I often talk about taking back your life and this is exactly what I recommend in this case too. You need to take control of your life and escape from gaslighting. Of course, it is not as easy as it might sound. That’s why I created a group of people who are ready to take action and support each other through these tough times. If you want to join us, please check “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”.

If you need a psychologist skilled in NT/ASD relationships, who can work with you (and won’t tell you to adapt), I offer private Video Therapy/Education Appointments (sessions of 20, 40 or 60 minutes) – please check my Appointment Page.

How to Be the Real You

Relationships between Neurotypicals (NTs) and people on the Spectrum have their own difficulties, apart from regular relationships. That’s why I created the community, “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”  as a group for partners, families and friends of “Aspies,” to gather and get support.

Being authentic is not easy, especially if you are in a relationship with a person who lacks empathy skills. Afterall, empathy is what binds all humans. Empathy is multidimensional – it’s a dynamic, evolving process, not a human trait.

People suffering from Empathy Dysfunctions can leave us feeling unheard and unimportant. Your spouse might hear what you say but is missing the bigger picture. This disconnection brings us down emotionally, exhausts us and creates chaos in our lives.

I have heard many people from my video conferences and teleconferences, describing living with someone with “Asperger’s” as walking on eggshells. It is so easy to say something that will set them off into a defensive tirade. But this walking on eggshells also extends to when you’re talking with others. Slowly, but surely, you change yourself – the way you talk and the way you are around others.

Let’s talk about how you can take your own life back. You can read more about empathy in the “Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style” blog I wrote. Understanding what is happening to your partner and what you are up against helps you redirect your energy to take better care of yourself and to embrace a more loving reality. This doesn’t mean everything works out; it just means that you’re more in charge. It can feel good.

In another popular blog, “Living with an “Aspie” Partner”, I’m talking about ways you can take your life back:

  • The Art of Detachment – doesn’t mean you don’t care
  • Emotional Self-Care – take time off for you
  • Education – get informed to gain control

You can be the change you need in your life. Deciding to take back your life is an important step which not everyone is ready to make, and that’s okay. If you are ready to learn more about “Asperger Syndrome”, how to work on your relationship and to invest in yourself, please join our community, “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”. You can go much further if you start rebuilding your identity. Being authentic is the key to success in life.

It’s important to learn how to continue to be empathic without denying your own boundaries and needs.  If you don’t maintain this balance, you’ll burn out or at the least shy away from helping others, because it’s just too painful. Take your life back, because you are worth it.

Rewiring Your Brain for Happiness

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

 

 

This is one of my favorite quotes. I not only use it with my psychotherapy clients, but I remind myself of this wisdom in my personal life as well. I don’t always know how to change my thinking, but I do know that continuing in the direction of my negative thoughts about a problem, will not get me anywhere — except even more stuck.
One trick I use to changing my thinking is to refocus on my successes. Often out of this positive thinking, I discover another way to look at my problem and solutions appear. 
Read on to discover more ways to rewire your brain in order to change your thoughts into solutions and happiness.

 

As some of you may know our thoughts are very powerful. Many contemporary authors (psychologists, theologians, and self help leaders) write that our thoughts are responsible for our happiness, and our negativity, and many emotions in between. For example if you are always having negative thoughts, you are more likely to be unhappy and experience depressive moods. Although it may be difficult, you can work on your thoughts and rewire your brain for happiness.

Many of you living with an adult on the Autism Spectrum know how hard it is to stay positive. Our ASD loved ones tell us frequently all of the “reasons” why something we said or did is wrong. It’s not just tiring; it’s depressing, especially when it happens daily. Being ignored and feeling lonely doesn’t help either. This type of interaction breeds negativity in you, even when you know better.  It may not be your ASD partner’s intention to surround you with negativity, but when you are faced daily with these unresolved problems, stress builds and can turn into depression or even physical illness.

Your brain is naturally sensitive around negativity and signals your body to protect yourself. However, your amygdala (an important part of the emotional brain) doesn’t distinguish between a real threat and your fears (that someone had an accident rather than just being late). Your brain turns an inordinate amount of attention to that negative source – and your happy mood is gone.

Before diving into how we can work on rewiring your thoughts to make a fair assessment of events, I believe it will be good to analyze your thoughts and realize how many of them are coming from your own internal issues. What are your triggers – things, actions, words that make you instantly upset? Why are you defensive about them? Knowing what these triggers are and why they are so important to you is a first step to acknowledge the problem and fix it.

I’ve written a blog post about Letting Go to Achieve Greater Happiness and Health a few years ago, that I think you might find useful today. Please don’t confuse letting it go with giving up. It’s about acceptance of where you are and moving on, instead of staying  stuck.

I am challenging you to work on your automatic thoughts. Automatic thoughts are those negative thoughts that jump in to sabotage us. It hardly matters where those automatic thoughts came from, but they need to be changed. For example, perhaps you can never accept a compliment because you were taught to do so was pretentious. Or perhaps you feel compelled to help others when they ask, even though you don’t have time to help; then you get resentful. Breaking this bad habit of negative thoughts and depressing self reflection is not impossible or expensive, but it takes work. 

For example, I have been terribly hard on myself for many years because I kept telling myself, “You should have been a better mother. If you were a better mother your children wouldn’t have suffered from such a dysfunctional family.” This is a very harsh judgement but I was able to break it by retraining myself in a new thought, along with lots of loving support from therapists and friends. 

My new thought? “In a loving Universe, where all things are possible, I forgive myself my mistakes and acknowledge all of my amazing mothering. Proof is how many young people call me ‘Mom.’”

It will take time, but if you practice replacing your negative thoughts with positive thoughts, in a year, your mind will be in a better space than it is today. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative, especially about yourself, stop for a minute, take a step back and analyze your thought. You will notice that often the main problem might be the fact that you are generalizing everything (“Everything/everyone/all is bad”) or you are projecting your mind-reading abilities (“He didn’t smile this morning, so I probably upset him yesterday”). I’m encouraging you to correct yourself whenever you notice a negative thought. Even when you are faced with the most devastating circumstances, always be there for yourself. Speaking positively about yourself, points you in the direction of a solution — and ultimately happiness.

Replacing automatic negative thoughts with positive, self affirming thoughts is a type of Cognitive Therapy. One approach I particularly like that helps move your thoughts quickly to solutions is Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET). If you need help, a therapist can help put you on the right path . I encourage you to find professional help if you are struggling. You don’t have to go through this process alone. If you’d like to reach me, I offer Video Therapy or Video Education Appointments to help you get your life back. Check my Contact page for more details.

Alternatively, if your partner is on the Spectrum and you’d like to join a community with people who share your life struggles, please check our “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum” community. I also offer video conferences and teleconferences every week to discuss and make a plan on how to improve and move on with your life.

Common Myths about Autism

We have all heard those assumptions about what a person with Asperger Syndrome” should look like or do. For this blog, I want to talk about those myths that are not necessarily true. I’ve asked our international MeetUp community about the most frequent phrases they hear from their family and friends. Below you can find five of them:

 

1. People with ASD are geniuses
How many times have you heard people noticing in awe how smart people on the Spectrum are? They are indeed smart in their area of interest. They are often scientist or computer geniuses. However, because of the lack of emotional intelligence, they can make bad decisions in their daily lives.

Jill [name changed to protect privacy] described this in the best way, so I will quote her here:

 

2. Their actions are not intentional, so those actions should not hurt you
Someone with “Asperger Syndrome” is characterized by their lack of communication skills, social skills, and reciprocity of feelings. The “Aspie” knows what they think and feel but are often unaware of what others think or feel. In most cases, they hurt their loved ones because of these characteristics.

Neurotypicals in relationships with “Aspies” feel alone, depressed, and socially isolated. They suffer from numerous stress-related chronic illnesses, because no one really understands what they’re going through.

Actions and words hurt. Just because someone had not intended to hurt you, doesn’t mean that you are not feeling hurt. You are entitled to your feelings and you shouldn’t allow other people to tell you how you should feel.

You will have to be the bridge between your “Aspie” and the rest of the family. How can you do this when you are constantly in a war with him/her? There are a few ways and I wrote about them in “Living with an “Aspie” Partner”:

  • Learn the art of detachment in an ASD/NT relationship
  • Tend to your emotional self-care
  • Educate yourself

If you feel lonely, perhaps this article I wrote “How Do You Survive the Loneliness in Your NT/AS Family?” will be useful to you.

 

3. They are all the same and you’d recognize them

“You would know if he was Autistic, it would be obvious”, someone told Amanda [name changed to protect privacy] from our MeetUp group. Nita [name changed to protect privacy] also mentioned:

We tend to generalize sometimes and while all people with “Asperger Syndrome” have some common characteristics, everybody is their own person. Generalizing that all of them have fantastic computer skills is not accurate.

 

4. They can’t learn better behavior
I said this many times and I strongly believe that those with “Asperger Syndrome” can be taught etiquette and rules, or what I call Rules of Engagement (ROE), but only if they accept that something is not right and they want to improve.

Maria [name changed to protect privacy] makes a good point below:

If you struggle to make yourself heard, I wrote “How to Speak to your ‘Aspie’ so They Listen and Understand”, where I give a few tips on things to do or avoid when talking with your partner. Sarcasm and metaphors won’t be welcomed and it would be better if you are straight forward and you say exactly what you mean.

 

5. They look put together, so everything is all right
In the screenshot below, Maria makes another good point. Behind every “Asperger” person, there is a busy spouse who helps run the house and the family.

How do “Aspies” and neurotypicals get together if there are so many problems? Just like any other couple. I wrote a short blog on this topic.

It is important to remember that “Aspies” do love. They just love in a different way. The marriage will be trying, but some things can be done to help the relationship. If you are in a marriage with someone with Asperger Syndrome and want that marriage to succeed, you must learn how to understand your partner.

These five myths are just a few of the most repetitive myths our MeetUp community hears daily. What other phrases can you add to this list? And tell me how you cope?